Federal Consultation on Same-Sex Marriage

The State Has No Business in the Marriages of the Nation

CLGRO Backgrounder (Published in Outwords, August 2002):

The marriage/common-law structure of Canadian relationships recognition should be rethought.

Marriage should not be a relationship that is legislated at all by the government. Marriage should be a purely religious ceremony with no legal implications. It should no longer be given special status or legal privileges.

We prefer a system be evolved based on the individual as the core unit, with allowance for support of others (such as children).

But if the legal recognition of couple-relationships is maintained as a core unit in law, we think a “registered domestic partnership” structure – a form of optional civil union – should be adopted. Under such a structure, common-law regulations should be brought into line with marital relationship regulations and should apply to and cover all the aspects of relationships regulated by the federal and provincial governments in Canada.

If the legal recognition of couple-relationships is maintained as a core unit in law, the system of couple-relationships recognition should be modified so that individuals may choose whom to register as their significant other and their choice should not be restricted to those with whom they are involved in a sexual/conjugal relationship.

If the marriage/common-law structure of Canadian relationships recognition is maintained

Although we prefer that the marriage/common-law structure of Canadian relationships recognition not be maintained in law, if it is, no difference should be made between same-sex and heterosexual relationships. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual people should be able to enter into these institutions on exactly the same terms as heterosexuals.

If marriage as a legal entity is retained, anyone entering a same-sex marriage should have that marriage legally recognized by the federal and provincial governments of the country on exactly the same terms as those of heterosexuals. Common-law relations and what are now called “same-sex partnerships” should have exactly the same rights, privileges, and obligations as those of marital relationships.


CLGRO seeks to create equity in the treatment of the lesbian, gay and bisexual communities in this country. This means both that we work to end all discrimination against these communities and that we work towards a society that recognizes the diversity of ways in which we live.

Since the Ontario Human Rights Code was changed (December 1986) to include “sexual orientation” as a grounds on which discrimination is prohibited, we have been working in the area of relationships recognition to protect our relationships and families from discrimination too.

For heterosexuals as well as for lesbians, gays, and bisexuals, it is true that some relationships fit easily into the mould of the “traditional” marriage and some do not. We can see no reason why those whose relationships are not of this “traditional” kind should have fewer rights and obligations than those whose relationships do fit this model. In short, we oppose a two-tier system of relationships recognition.

The “traditional” marital model is based on a particular kind of society, specific to religious codes, cultural conventions and property rights etc. It is not relevant to many of us who live in today’s multicultural Canada.

The concept of marriage as a religious/spiritual/symbolic institution has a long history. We do not seek to change the spiritual significance for those who value that aspect of the relationship. Our objection is to the concept of marriage as a legal institution. Of course people who want a spiritual sanction of their domestic relationship can seek that sanction, but such sanction should not be binding under law unless the relationship is also a separately “registered domestic partnership” recorded by a legal authority.

The privileging of marriage often stems from a belief that marriage is a procreational institution. This is not an accurate reflection of Canadian society today. Many marriages do not produce children. Many children live in single-parent households or have parents in different households. It is clear that the needs of the young must be given priority, but it is no longer clear that marriage is the best – let alone the only – way to do this.

In addition, marriage, because of its religious origins, historically has been given connotations of morality, legitimacy, stability, and respectability. Forms of relationships outside marriage accordingly have been cast as in some way inferior: immature, immoral, illegitimate, unstable, and not respectable. At the same time, those who were not in couple-relationships (other than those in religious orders) were seen as not fulfilling their social obligations, or as flawed, unfulfilled or incomplete persons. Such values and beliefs should no longer be reflected in the public policy or the laws of Canada.

Canada as a nation does not believe that certain people are superior to others and should be treated differently. Canada is a democratic country, whose laws are based on the premise of treating its citizens equally and without prejudice. This should apply to relationships recognition too.

CLGRO’s position is:

“All people, regardless of sexual orientation, have the right to determine for themselves their primary personal relationships and to have these relationships supported and recognized in law and by social institutions.”

CLGRO Statement of Principle, adopted at the On Our Own Terms relationships recognition conference in 1989.

“CLGRO believes that, while our preference would be that benefits be made available on an individual basis (with allowances for the dependence of children, the aged, and the disabled), whenever benefits are made available to heterosexuals living in couples, these same benefits must also be made available to same-sex couples on the same footing.”

CLGRO Statement of Principle 1990.

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